A Moonlit Serious Moonlight

Globe Pool
My post yesterday dealt with the process of design and installation of the decor for a fundraiser to benefit the Art Academy at Cranbrook.  With the donation of my time and effort came an invitation to attend the event.  As I do not always get the chance to see how what I have planned works or doesn’t work,  I looked forward to being a guest.  Much of the success of any party in a garden relies upon its thoughtful lighting.  An event with the word moonlight in its title made the notion of lighting the night the centerpiece of our design.  Our first bit of timely cooperation from nature-as dusk approached, the rainy skies cleared to reveal the full moon. Be advised the date of the full moon this July had been researched by the committee, and the date for the event was set accordingly.

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (74)The benefactor tables surrounding the upper level Orpheus fountain glowed with the soft light from hundreds of votive candles set on their surfaces. The white tablecloths, umbrellas, garden flowers,the costumes of the dance troup and water reflected light in every direction.  This kind of romance makes people feel good. 

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (96)The votive-lit lanterns skimming the surface of the Triton pools were repeated ingound, lighting the path from the entrance to the event, to its center.  Designing and creating a walk to the event gave every guest the chance to shift their visual gears from their every day landscape to this specially made and momentary landscape.  This transition helps to build anticipation for the event; when I have the idea I am going to enjoy something, I usually do.

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The relationship of still water, spouting water,and glowing spheres took on an entirely different and dramatic aspect after dusk. I did not expect to see so many guests photographing what they saw on cell phones, but I was very pleased none the less. The majority of these photographs, taken by Jason Ruff, are a considerable addition to my memory of the garden that night.   

night pool tooI had not thought about the fact that the level of glow the one votive candle tucked into each sphere would vary greatly given the size of that sphere. That variation in light level proved especially beautiful – courtesy of a little physics via the umbrella we call nature.

Moonlight (17)As the evening wore on, the intensity of light emitted from the spheres, and the diminishing ability to gauge the water level  gave the impression that all the spheres were floating on, or hovering over the water.

Moonlight (21)The reflection of the spheres in the still water made it seem like the spheres were multiplying.  The water, the weather, and the light acting on those spheres made this event.  How weather acts on a landscape is a critical factor in its success.  I do my best work when I am paying attention to that.

night poolOf course there would be music, dining and dancing. The bidding on the art at auction was brisk; people were enjoying themselves. It was such a pleasure seeing the Triton pools, and their sculptures at night.

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (92)The perfect moment that night?  The coming of the frogs.  Late in the evening, the spheres were host to many hundreds, maybe thousands, of frogs. They gravitated to the spheres, and took up residence. Everyone could hear them singing, before anyone spotted where they were perched.    Some said the rhythm of that singing matched the rhythm of the music; I choose to believe that was so. 

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I learned plenty about my place in the big scheme of things that night. No one could have invited the frogs, but that they came is what made that night unforgettable.

Serious Moonlight

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I have been a supporter of the Cranbrook Academy of Art for some years.  They produce several events a year to raise money to support their programs.  It is a unique institution among graduate art schools in the US, and a considerable asset to our community. I like being involved.  We planted the annual garden surrounding the Orpheus fountain in May, in anticipation of their event to come in July. I took my cue for design and decor from the title of the event.

Cranbrook 05  1 (23)A large tent would be a temporary home to a collection of art destined for auction that evening.   Each work was donated by a previous graduate of the academy; this part of the event generated considerable interest and participation.  Tables reserved for groups representing the major benefactors for this event were placed in the fountain garden.

Cranbrook 05  1 (22)The remnants of puddles you see on the ground in the above picture bring back memories for me; it rained fiercely the afternoon of the event. What I had thought I would have the entire day to accomplish would have to be done in less time.   The threat of bad weather makes any garden party all the more exciting to plan and produce-in this case, it was more excitement than I really wanted. 

Branch Cranbrook & Serious Moonlight CD (38)A cocktail reception would be held in a grassy area immediately adjacent to the showpiece of the Cranbrook landscape-the Triton pools.  We fashioned simple tents for the hordoerves tables from double layers of white fabric attached to bamboo poles.  Steel shoes for the poles were sunk in the ground at an outward angle, stretching the fabric tight and smooth.  Nature had another idea in store; the intense downpour changed that flat profile to a graceful swoop.  This unexpected contribution from the sky was a good one; I liked the swooping fabric against the curving path. We had painted a rambling path for guests arriving at the Lone Pine entrance to the garden to the reception area, with athletic paint. 

Cranbrook 05  1  (1)The big gesture?  I had the idea to affix paper lanterns to slender steel rods anchored with bricks which would sit on the on the pool bottom. Advance measurements of the water depth  enabled us to create the impression that the lanterns were floating on the surface of the water.  What fun it was to get in these fountains; I never expected this opportunity to come along.  A crew of four of us spent the better part of the afternoon wading in the water.

Cranbrook 7 (20)We set up hundred of lanterns of different diameters.  Each steel rod had a platform at the top holding a votive candle.  As we set the lanterns, we lit the votives rated to burn for ten hours, and hoped no more rain or wind would come our way. I was equally concerned that no water from the pools wick its way onto the paper.  I was interested in creating a little moonlight magic, not a wet paper mess.

Cranbrook 05  1 (11)It seemed the rain had cleared off, and we did finish with an hour to spare before guests were due to arrive. The reception would begin at the very far end of the pools, and guests would wind their way uphill.   

Cranbrook 05  1 (12)I was happy to have finished my part as the catering staff was setting up. I was on my way home to get dressed; I did not want to miss how all of this would look at night. 

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (20)Attending an event gives you the chance to experience it as other people do.  There is plenty to be learned from this-what proves awkward, what is not visually strong enough when a space is full of people, what proves to be good that you never gave a moment’s  thought to.  Any party in a garden will surprise you.

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I made it back just in time to see the garden begin to fill with people.  Little did I realize what the night would add to this party-more on that tomorrow.

Sodded Over

aug_7_10_am_015My last visit to the landscape at the Cranbrook Academy of Art was to deliver the flowers and decoration for a wedding and reception there in August of 2007.  I had for several years prior donated the summer planting around the Orpheus fountain; this was a job I loved doing.  This area adjacent to the stairs had been dirt and more dirt for some years; my client and I split the cost of a planting of a group of Limelight hydrangeas.  I am happy to see they seem to be doing fine. 

Six willows on standard in pots created an aisle for the bride and her wedding party.  No one could tell the white Hollywood roses were not in water; they perform so beautifully for a wedding.  Would that I could have been there the moment the bride stepped in front of that fountain.

aug_7_10_am_013The Art Museum is under extensive renovation, so this year, the garden areas are sodded over.  The fountain is closed. 

aug_7_10_am_014I try to tread lightly with the landscape where a sculpture is concerned.  How easy it is to cross over the line trying to compliment a sculpture, and end up confusing the visual issues.  Though I knew it would be closed, I was not prepared for how closed. But seeing it in its gardenless state, no water in the fountain, no sound and sparkle, had its good side.   Its always a good idea to consider whether an area is all the  better for your not touching it.   The simple word for this is “editing”; some days I am better at this than others.  Where flowers are concerned, I have a very tough time.  

cranbrook_05_2_39Planting white flowers is a good way to proceed cautiously.  Interestingly enough, I was told the traditonal summer planting here involved a short red salvia.  I had no problem ditching the red flower thing, but I thought a tall planting would compliment the sculpture and water better. I mitigated the risk with the white palette.

 The white amni majus, cleome  and impatiens are crisp; this area is incredible hot in the summer.  The blistered kale Nero di Toscano is good with the smooth sleek black sculpture, and it seems to intensify the whites.  

cranbrook_2005__3_1Another year I added an upright white datura, and white sonata cosmos to the mix.  The white petunias did a better job of softening the lawn line.

From this vantage point, the sculpture looks to have company, and good company at that.  The height of the plants in each quadrant drops gracefully where there is physical access to the rim of the fountain; in no way do the plantings obstruct the important view.  On an overcast day, the black figures appear a much softer blue-grey.  The lawn panels are effective in making a formal presentation of the sculpture and its environment.  However I mostly like how the lawn repeats the grid of the paving, and introduces the curve of the fountain rim.  The figures themselves describe a small circle with their feet, and a large, expanding circle with their heads.
cranbrook_6_8Yet another year, I added some verbena bonariensis,  some nicotiana langsdorfii, and some grey cirrus dusty miller to the predominantly white mix.  I do so like the cloud effect of the verbena flowers. 

cranbrook_6_1White gardens are however, unforgiving of a lack of maintenance.  Dead white flower heads do have a distinctively brown-dead appearance.  For this reason, I rarely plant white geraniums unless I am sure there is a maintenance fanatic waiting in the wings-and even then, a heavy rain will spoil the blooms in such a dramatic way. I knew the planting would not be the end of my involvement here.


I did go back regularly to do maintenance here, as I liked having it look good when I visited.  There was a day when every single nicotiana got its own stake.  That tedious job gets forgotten, sooner or later.  But the memory of all those dancing flower heads, those graceful figures,the water, and the white will stay with me a long time.